If, as so many have said the “outing” of Mary Cheney is part of a plan hatched by this undistinguished group and their enablers “to transparently attempt to divide Bush's evangelical vote,” then they have failed to grasp the fundamental differences between that group of voters and themselves. It is misunderstanding that, if the “evangelicals” think about it points out an essential difference between the candidates and difference that should mobilize them to vote to support the Bush-Cheney ticket in full force and not, as the democratic strategists hope, stay home.
Mr. Bush believes that there is an objective standard against which actions and words can be judged. It is a coherent belief system, honored by many religions and by many philosophers. As C. S. Lewis put it in The Abolition of Man, “It is the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false, to the kind of thing the universe is and the kind of things we are.”
Mr. Bush believes in an objective standard of “right” and “wrong.” Because of this belief system, he can call the leadership of countries that mean to do harm to others members of an “axis of evil.” To call someone evil is to hold that person up to an objective standard and find them wanting. At the second debate he took on Mr. Kerry’s nuanced stance on abortion by measuring it against an objective standard:
Well, it's pretty simple when they say: Are you for a ban on partial birth abortion? Yes or no?
And he was given a chance to vote, and he voted no. And that's just the way it is. That's a vote. It came right up. It's clear for everybody to see. And as I said: You can run but you can't hide the reality.
Mr. Bush’s core beliefs allow him to remain steadfast in his positions and his duties because he has an objective standard to guide him.
It is this Bush trait that the evangelicals should both recognize and embrace with their votes.
On the other hand, Mr. Kerry belongs to a different school of belief. C.S. Lewis wrote about “men without chests” –men who believe that all judgments about values are subjective. That is to say they believe that there are no absolute right things and no absolute wrong things. It is moral relativism. It is why Mr. Kerry can claim in the third debate that his approach toward abortion is not guided by his religion, but that his approach toward the environment is.
“I believe that choice is a woman's choice. It's between a woman, God and her doctor. And that's why I support that.
Now, I will not allow somebody to come in and change Roe v. Wade…
And I think that everything you do in public life has to be guided by your faith, affected by your faith, but without transferring it in any official way to other people.
That's why I fight against poverty. That's why I fight to clean up the environment and protect this earth.”
This lack of belief in objective value allows Mr. Kerry to “windsurf” his way through issues, changing direction with each shift in the political breeze and not to worry about the inconsistencies that might be objectively observed. He is always saying that whatever course he is currently on is the right course at the moment. “I actually voted for the $87 billion before I voted against it” means “and I was right both times.” It allows him to attempt to be both Vietnam War hero and hero Vietnam War protestor (as opposed to Muhammad Ali who measured his belief against the Vietnam against an objective standard and went to jail rather than compromise his belief).
It is this view that makes a candidate’s child “fair game” for use as political fodder. It is this view that would twist a parental expression of outrage at this callous ploy into somehow being evidence of the parent being “ashamed” of that child. By objective standards, including the norms of political discourse observed and, indeed, monitored by the press, it is a step into the dark side. It reveals a soulless obsession with winning at any cost and a thorough lack of decency.
If the press calls the Kerry campaign on this it could be a huge issue. If they don’t, then it may still matter if the “evangelicals” can see the cynical manipulation being attempted and get to the polls in massive numbers to support Mr. Bush as the candidate who best reflects their worldview.
Update: Fixed some typos.
Update: It's an honor to have Russ Vaughn add his poetic wit as comment #1
Update: And thanks to Pierre at ThePink Flamingo Bar & Grill for the kind words. Check out his site by using the link on my "Links" list.